The Link Between Sugar And Breast Cancer

January 4, 2016

We’ve all been warned about sugar, with experts saying it can wreak havoc on everything from our teeth to our waistline. Those with a sweet tooth may now also face increased risk of breast cancer, according to a new study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Researchers have highlighted dietary sugar’s effect on a particular enzymatic signaling pathway, called 12-LOX (12-lipoxygenase). Prior research has linked higher intake with breast cancer development, suggesting inflammation is at play. The current study, however, focuses more on how sugar effects mammary gland tumor development in mouse models.

“Prior research has examined the role of sugar, especially glucose, and energy-based metabolic pathways in cancer development,” said Dr. Peiying Yang, assistant professor of palliative, rehabilitation, and integrative medicine, in a press release. “However, the inflammatory cascade may be an alternative route of studying sugar-driven carcinogenesis that warrants further study.”

Yang and her team found mice with sucrose levels comparable to levels found in Western diets (so, a lot) were at greater risk for breast cancer tumor growth and metastasis compared to mice on a non-sugar starch diet. One idea is that eating more sugar can increase expression of 12-LOX and 12-HETE, a related fatty acid.

But instead of glucose, Yang and her team were able to determine “that it was specifically fructose,” found in table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, behind the increased risk.

Yang also noted that no other studies have explored the direct effect of sugar consumption on the development of breast cancer through animal models, or at least looked at the specific mechanisms involved. Not only does this study do that, but it also shows that the number of lung metastases is higher in mice eating a sucrose- or fructose-enriched diet.

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